Tag Archives: New York Post

More NYC Snow Posts, More Use Of Simpsons Songs To Explain NYC Snow Problems

Sally Goldenberg, Larry Celona and Josh Margolin in NY Post:

These garbage men really stink.

Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts — a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.

Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.

“They sent a message to the rest of the city that these particular labor issues are more important,” said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens), who was visited yesterday by a group of guilt-ridden sanitation workers who confessed the shameless plot.

Halloran said he met with three plow workers from the Sanitation Department — and two Department of Transportation supervisors who were on loan — at his office after he was flooded with irate calls from constituents.

J.P. Freire at Washington Examiner:

I reported yesterday how well compensated these people are:

…[T]he top salary of $66,672 is only the tip of the iceberg for active sanitation worker compensation because it excludes other things like overtime and extra pay for certain assignments. For example, one worker in 2009 had a salary of $55,639 but actually earned $79,937 for the year.

Sanitation workers don’t pay a dime for premiums on their cadillac health care plan, which includes prescription drug coverage along with dental and eye care for the whole family. Many continue to receive the full benefit upon retiring after only 10 years. And then there’s the matter of their pension:
…Nearly 180 retired [sanitation workers] make over $66,000 year — in other words, over and above the maximum salary of currently working employees. In fact, 20 retirees make upwards of $90,000 in retirement, up to $132,360.

Keep that in mind when reading lines like this:

…[M]ultiple Sanitation Department sources told The Post yesterday that angry plow drivers have only been clearing streets assigned to them even if that means they have to drive through snowed-in roads with their plows raised.

And they are keeping their plow blades unusually high, making it necessary for them to have to run extra passes, adding time and extra pay.

One mechanic said some drivers are purposely smashing plows and salt spreaders to further stall the cleanup effort.

Sure, Mayor Bloomberg planned poorly and should have announced a snow emergency. But this story makes it clear that even if he did, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The question is whether Bloomberg will do anything about it.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

Among the victims of this crime: A newborn baby died after waiting nine hours for paramedics to arrive.

Doug Mataconis:

Assuming this is true it’s likely to provide much more ammunition to the arguments of those on the right who have started speaking out against the very idea of a public employees being allowed to unionize. Personally, I don’t think it would be appropriate to ban people from voluntarily associating just because they’re public employees. However, situations like this do raise the legitimate question of whether public employees in certain positions should be legally permitted to engage in some of the tactics that unions in the private sector engage during work disputes. When you’re a position where your job is one that is essential to the operation of the city — like a policeman, fireman, or sanitation worker — I think it’s highly questionable to concede that you should the right to go on strike. Essentially what happens in that situation is that the Union has a huge negotiating advantage over the city because leaders would not want to deal with the backlash that would result from the fact that garbage hasn’t been picked up in a week.

Ronald Reagan set the precedent for this in 1980 when he fired every air traffic controller in the country for going on a strike that they were not legally permitted to call. Of course, no American city would be able to do the same thing with it’s police force for fire department, which is why forbidding essential public employees from going on strike seems to me to be an entirely reasonable idea.

Megan McArdle:

On the face of it, it’s not implausible–it wouldn’t be the first time that New York City unions chose the worst possible time to show their displeasure with working conditions.  (Two of the last three transit strikes, for example, have taken place during the holiday season.)

Nonetheless, the charges are serious, and I’d like to see some better backup than a politician claiming he has secret union informants.  If it is true that the trucks were driving around with their plows up, refusing to plow any but the streets they were specifically directed to plow, presumably there will be witnesses who saw this.  Similarly, I assume that people noticed if their streets were plowed with the plows set too high, requiring a second pass.
In individual cases, that won’t tell you whether it was an organized plan, incompetent individual workers, or workers who were simply trying to score a little extra overtime for themselves.  But in aggregate, it should be possible to detect a pattern.  Couldn’t the Post find anyone in Queens or the Bronx who claims to have seen this misbehavior?
Hopefully, Bloomberg will appoint some sort of investigative committee–after all, it’s his political price to pay.  Of course, even if it turns out that the sanitation workers did make things worse, that won’t absolve the mayoral administration that apparently decided to ignore the storm warnings rather than pay the sanitation workers expensive overtime for working the Christmas holiday.

Don Suber

Mike Riggs at Daily Caller

Ed Morrissey:

I’m a little skeptical, but mainly because the primary source for the conspiracy theory is an elected official who can expect to be held accountable for the poor performance thus far in the Big Apple.  Also, the Twin Cities had the same level of snowfall a few weeks ago, and snow removal was a problem for us, too.  Minneapolis/St Paul and the first-ring suburbs have a large amount of infrastructure to deal with heavy snowfalls and about a fifth of the population, and we still have huge piles of snow blocking sidewalks downtown.  Heck, we can’t even get the Metrodome fixed; now, the estimate for repair and reinflation is the end of March.  I’m not sure that NYC could have done better, with its relatively smaller snow-removal infrastructure, lack of places to put the snow, and population density.

Is it possible that this was a coordinated slowdown effort by public-sector unions to make Bloomberg and city officials look incompetent?  Sure, but the simpler answers are usually closer to the truth.  The simpler answers here are that this was freakishly heavy snowfall in a city not used to such things, and, well, it has a mayor more interested in salt use in restaurants than on the roads.

 

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On The Avenue I’m Taking You To, Forty-Fifth Street

Al Baker and William K. Rashbaum in the NYT:

A crude car bomb of propane, gasoline and fireworks was discovered in a smoking Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square on Saturday evening, prompting the evacuation of thousands of tourists and theatergoers on a warm and busy night. Although the device had apparently started to detonate, there was no explosion, and early on Sunday the authorities were still seeking a suspect and motive.

“We are very lucky,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a 2:15 a.m. press conference. “We avoided what could have been a very deadly event.”

A large swath of Midtown — from 43rd Street to 48th Street, and from Sixth to Eighth Avenues — was closed for much of the evening after the Pathfinder was discovered just off Broadway on 45th Street. Several theaters and stores, as well as the South Tower of the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, were evacuated.

Mr. Bloomberg was joined by Gov. David A. Paterson, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and other officials at the early morning press conference to give a chronology of the vehicle’s discovery, its disarming, and the investigation that has been launched. The mayor and police commissioner had returned early from the annual White House correspondents’ dinner in Washington.

At 6:28 p.m., Mr. Kelly said, a video surveillance camera recorded what was believed to be the dark green Nissan S.U.V. driving west on 45th Street.

Moments later, a T-shirt vendor on the sidewalk saw smoke coming out of vents near the back seat of the S.U.V., which was now parked awkwardly at the curb with its engine running and its hazard lights on. The vendor called to a mounted police officer, the mayor said, who smelled gunpowder when he approached the S.U.V. and called for assistance. The police began evacuating Times Square, starting with businesses along Seventh Avenue, including a Foot Locker store and a McDonald’s.

Steve Benen:

According to officials, around 6:30 p.m. (ET), a dark green Pathfinder parked awkwardly at a curb. A T-shirt vendor noticed smoke coming from the truck — which had its hazard lights on and its engine still running — and alerted a mounted police officer. The officer approached the vehicle, smelled gunpowder, called for backup, and the police began evacuating Times Square.

The Nissan’s windows were broken by a robot, which also removed explosives. Inside, officials found three propane tanks, consumer-grade fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers, and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components. The mayor described the device as “amateurish.”

Paul Browne, the NYPD’s chief spokesman, added that the bomb apparently “malfunctioned.”

Specific details about the device are, not surprisingly, still coming together, but a former supervisor for the NYPD bomb squad said that had the device functioned as intended, “it would be more of an incendiary event” than an explosion.

At this point, there is no information about possible suspects or motives, and the effort to collect video surveillance was still underway.

President Obama, of course, was briefed on developments last night, and told NYC officials that the administration was prepared to help in the investigation.

Allah Pundit:

Buildings in the vicinity were quickly evacuated, which tells you how seriously they were taking this and how much explosive power they feared the bomb might have. Said Bloomberg, putting it mildly, “We are very lucky.” As for possible culprits, trying to set off a bomb with fireworks doesn’t sound like the work of master jihadis, but then the 2007 London plot was a jihad operation too and that didn’t come off either. The basic ingredients in both plots are the same — propane and gasoline, a.k.a. a fuel-air device. Read this Time magazine piece from five years ago about Al Qaeda capo Dhiren Barot’s “Gas Limo Plot,” which involved packing limousines with tanks of compressed gas, driving them into underground garages, and detonating them to create a fuel-air concussion that would bring down the building. As I understand it, an enclosed place is ideal for maximum damage from a bomb like that, but obviously not essential. In fact, the cars found in the London plot three years ago were discovered parked on the street, just like the one found last night.

Ben Williams at New York Magazine:

Police are reviewing security videotapes. However, the SUV’s windows were tinted, which could make it hard to see anyone inside on the tapes. On “Meet the Press” this morning, Janet Napolitano said fingerprints and other forensic evidence were recovered.

Apparently stolen, the SUV had Connecticut license plates from another car, a Ford F-150. Police interviewed the owner of that car but said he was not a suspect; they’re investigating the junkyard where the Ford was left.

Broadway shows were canceled or delayed. The area between West 43rd to 47th Streets along Broadway and Seventh Avenue was blocked with metal railings last night, and parts of West 48th Street were also closed. Times Square is now reopen.

Everyone agrees the NYPD did a fantastic job.

At least one tourist managed to make light of the situation: “It’s a whole different kind of show,” Tay Heniser of Seattle told the Times, adding, “It’s almost the equivalent of a $150 show.”

Mark Steyn at The Corner:

While the initial US reports on the Times Square car bomb concentrated on the by now traditional denials that this was anything to do with terrorism and, even if it was, it was “amateurish”, the Telegraph in Britain was the first to note the parking space:

The dark green Nissan Pathfinder with tinted windows was parked near the junction of 45th Street and Broadway.

The location is also adjacent to the Viacom building, fuelling speculation that it might be linked to the company’s controversial South Park cartoon which recently depicted Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit.

UPDATE: John Hinderaker at Powerline

Michelle Malkin

Daniel Foster at The Corner

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

Spencer Ackerman

UPDATE #2: James Fallows

Fox News

UPDATE #3: Jules Crittenden

Mark Steyn at The Corner

Ed Morrissey

UPDATE #4: Frank James at NPR

UPDATE #5: Doug Mataconis

Brian Palmer at Slate

UPDATE #6: Dana Mangan at New York Post

Mary Katherine Ham at The Weekly Standard

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Filed under Crime, GWOT, Homeland Security

The S-Word In The S-Committee

John Curran at Curious Capitalist at Time:

I thought about entitling this post, “Goldman Gets Blasted For Selling a ‘Sh-tty’ Deal,”  a phrase  borrowed from an internal Goldman Sachs email that Senator Carl Levin chose to cite in his questioning of current and former Goldman Sachs executives during Tuesday morning’s investigative hearings into the financial crisis. But then  I thought about all the kids who might see that and giggle, instead of thinking more deeply about the grown-up world they are soon to enter, one characterized by Wall Street firms that can borrow from the Fed, take federally insured deposits, and also act really, really  nasty in the marketplace.

In his opening statement, Senator Levin characterized Wall Street’s ethics as “unbridled greed.”  He then cited the “sh-tty deal” several times and I even think he enjoyed saying it on national television, knowing full well that despite all of the fine sentence parsing by Goldman’s executives, everyone watching the hearings would know exactly what was meant by that colorful phrase—the citation comes from an internal  Goldman email noting, “Boy, that Timberwolf deal was really sh-tty.” Levin then said that evidence showed that Goldman sold that deal to its clients even after noting its poor quality. The respondent, former Goldman partner Daniel Sparks, said he did not know that to be true.

It is extremely unusual for senators to use obscenities from the dais, let alone during remarks carried live on cable television networks. Levin used it again and again.

“How much of that shitty deal did you sell to your clients?” Levin asked a witness, Daniel Sparks, former head of the Mortgage Department at Goldman Sachs.

“Mr. Chairman, I don’t know the answer to that,” Sparks replied.

Levin pressed Sparks on the question of whether he had an obligation to disclose to his clients that he was selling assets that Goldman itself was betting against.

“You didn’t tell them you thought it was a shitty deal? Levin asked.

Sparks said that the context of the email was that his own performance on the deal was not good.

“Should Goldman Sachs be trying to sell a shitty deal?” Levin pressed.

“Well, there are prices in the market that people want to invest in things,” Sparks responded.

The question-and-answer session grew so contentious that Republican Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) turned to her Democratic colleague Levin at one point, saying, “I cannot help but get the feeling that the strategy of the witnesses is to try to burn through the time of each questioner.”

John Hudson at The Atlantic

Megan McArdle:

Carl Levin is asking the same silly question that I’ve heard over and over:  shouldn’t Goldman have told buyers that it was short?

The presumption is that Goldman has some sort of godlike knowledge that it was concealing from its customers.  It’s not Goldman’s responsibility to tell its customers what they should want to buy (or at least, not on the trading/ABS side), or what Goldman wants to buy.  It’s Goldman’s responsibility to make sure that its clients have all the relevant details about the securities.  Clients buy stuff from Goldman all the time that some part of Goldman is short; differences of opinion are what make marriages and markets.

It is true that clients would like to know what Goldman is doing, but it’s also true that the seller of the house I just bid on would like to know what my reservation price is.  That doesn’t mean that I have some obligation to disclose this information.  These are large securities firms that are presumed to know how to evaluate a security; if they can’t, they should turn in their charter and disband.

Goldman was making a bet.  That bet could have gone wrong  (not in this case, but in many similar).  Other firms had different opinions of the market.  Goldman was under no obligation to disabuse them of their opinions.  They’re not investment advisers; they’re securities issuers.

Ben Frumin at Talking Points Memo:

Sen. Claire McCaskill is continuing to push her Goldman-as-casino analogy at today’s governmental affairs hearing, telling Goldman Sachs executives this afternoon that “you all are the house. You’re the bookie.”

“People are booking their bets with you,” she continued. “That’s what they’re doing. That’s what a synthetic CDO is. I don’t know why we need to dress it up. It’s just a bet.”

McCaskill fist introduced this analogy in her opening statement this morning, when she said: “It’s gambling, pure and simple, raw gambling. They’re called synthetic because there’s nothing there but the gamble, but the bet.”

Tiernan Ray at Barron’s:

Finally, after hours of grilling former and current Goldman Sachs (GS) executives, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is hearing from CFO David Viniar and chief risk officer Craig Broderick.

As I mentioned earlier, the slant of both men is that the book of business contained any number of long or short positions in structured credit products and that there was no particular over-arching direction on the housing market in order to “get closer to home,” and mitigate risk.

Chair Carl Levin starts off by referring to Goldman’s statement that the bank was not net short in the housing market in 2008.

Viniar replies, “across 2007, we were primarily, though not consistently short, the housing market.”

Did those short positions make money in 2007?

“The short positions made money, but they offset long positions.”

Levin, referring to net profits from shorts of $3.7 billion versus net losses from long positions of $2.9 billion, presses Viniar on whether the firm had “a significant short position.”

“Not on a net short basis,” replied Viniar.

“I’m not talking about net,” Levin cut him off.

“Yes,” Viniar finally conceded.

Levin concludes the firm’s public statements were misleading because the firm did have a significant short position. .

“I don’t think we were misleading,” says Viniar. “If we did not have a significant long position, we would not have had that short position.”

Naked Capitalism:

As Goldman and the Senate Committee on Investigations are duking out The Battle of the E-Mails, with each side claiming the other has painted a misleading picture, it is becoming pretty clear that Goldman, contrary to its sanctimonious twattle about putting clients first, actually puts its fees first.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who had dealt with the industry; indeed, any other behavior would be surprising. Transaction-based revenues, not surprisingly, induce participants to complete more trades, the bigger and higher margin, the better. The old-school style of cultivating relationships and taking a protective posture towards clients went out of fashion in the age of the dinosaurs, meaning roughly the 1980s.

While the securities industry had always focused on getting deals done, deregulation has led to changes in industry structure and conduct which in turn unleashed much more aggressive behavior (we discuss this issue long form in ECONNED).

So it is predictable that an e-mail dump would unearth some less than savory conduct. For instance, the Wall Street Journal highlights that Goldman worked with some crappy lenders:

Washington Mutual Inc. and its Long Beach Mortgage Co. subprime-lending unit rang up one of the worst failures in U.S. history. Left in the wake were billions of dollars of soured loans and questionable lending practices…

Recently released emails and other documents, including securities filings, show how Goldman, considered one of Wall Street’s most elite banks, built its mortgage business by closely working with lenders such as Washington Mutual and Long Beach, two firms that “polluted the financial system” with souring loans, according to a Senate review of Washington Mutual on April 13.

Yves here. There is a little problem with this account. Anyone who was in the subprime business would have dealt with some crappy lenders. So while Goldman is fair game for criticism here, why aren’t the other major firms also being raked over the coals?

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Filed under Economics, Political Figures, The Crisis

Coo, Coo, Ca-Choo, Mrs. Robinson

Jennifer Rubin in Commentary, in a series of posts.

Here

Mary Robinson, U.N. Commissioner and former president of Ireland, is being awarded the Medal of Freedom by Obama. Well, isn’t that just dandy. Who is Mary Robinson? You may remember her role in presiding over the infamous Durban I Conference. At the time she joined Rashid Khalidi at Columbia University (no, you can’t make this up), this report summarized the objections to her hiring, given her record in overseeing the infamous Israel-bashing event:

Columbia has “become a hotbed of anti-Israel haters,” said the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein. “It’s especially astonishing that a school with such a large Jewish population would insult Jewish people by hiring these haters of the Jewish state of Israel.”

The groups also blame Ms. Robinson for allowing the Durban conference to become a global platform for anti-Israel venting. Ms. Robinson, as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, rejected many American demands to remove anti-Israel language from final conference documents.

“Under Mary Robinson’s leadership the Human Rights Commission was one-sided and extremist. In her tenure at the HRC, she lacked fairness in her approach to the Israeli/Palestinian issue,” said the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, James Tisch. “I am hopeful — for the sake of her students and the reputation of Columbia — that as she enters the world of academia she will demonstrate more balance in her views.”

Recently deceased congressman and human-rights champion Tom Lantos had this to say:

Mary Robinson’s lack of leadership was a major contributing factor to the debacle in Durban. Her yearning to have a “dialogue among civilizations” blinded her to the reality that the noble goals of her conference had been usurped by some of the world’s least tolerant and most repressive states, wielding human rights claims as a weapon in a political dispute.

But Durban was not the only blot on her record. As Michael Rubin pointed out in this 2002 column, in her capacity as president of Ireland, she also happily provided millions of dollars of support to the PLO, which were used in terror attacks

Here

Robinson is an abominable selection whose behavior and performance have been criticized over the years with near uniformity by Jewish groups and by members of both parties in the U.S. Rather than minimize or conceal the depth of antipathy toward her, the JTA might want to start asking what in the world Obama was thinking when he came up with this one.

Here

The administration is commending her for having “changed the world for the better.” One supposes that funding the PLO, presiding over the Durban hate-fest, and championing the Jenin propaganda effort in Obama’s eyes made for a better world. But if one is interested in putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, symbolic acts like this certainly go a long way.

We will see how lawmakers and Jewish groups react. Rep. Peter King, responding to my inquiry, was quick to respond and characteristically blunt: “Mary Robinson was an effective President of Ireland. I met with her a number of times when she was President. Her views on Israel and the Middle East, and on foreign policy generally, are misguided. She is definitely from the school of moral equivalency which somehow invariably comes down on the side against vibrant democracies such as Israel and the United States.” His spokesman confirms “he was not consulted” on the award.

Again, one has to wonder: should we be honoring this person?

Here

Here

I posed a series of questions to the White House about the selection of Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom award, including whether they consulted with Jewish organizations or considered the views of Israel or of their special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who in the past has criticized Robinson for “politicizing the UN.” They will not, at least now, explain their deliberation process. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did have this to say: “Mary Robinson has dedicated her career to human rights and working to improve an imperfect world. As with any public figure, we don’t necessarily agree with every statement she has ever made, but it’s clear that she has been an agent of change and a fighter for good.”

In discussion over the past two days with Jewish organizations, I have yet to find one who was consulted on this matter. I think it is safe to say that had the White House checked, they would have been greeted with a storm of protest.

Here

The Mary Robinson saga continues along predictable lines. As Thomas Lifson reports, Mary Robinson has claimed the mantle of victimhood. She declares, “There’s a lot of bullying in the Jewish community” and decries unspecified “stuff out on the internet.” All of this from some minimal reporting on her own record of “accomplishment” at the UN. Well that is rich. Anyone who objects to the coronation of the Empress of Durban is a bully. Anyone who calls into question her championing the Jenin propaganda hoax is a bully. And would that include the late Tom Lantos, who dissected her performance at Durban? Perhaps she’d like to be more specific about what inaccuracies are being put out on the Internet.

The White House is in defensive mode, hoping the whole fuss will just go away. And by refusing to comment on the “deliberations” (hard as it is to imagine that people really thought this through), they hope to quell the flurry of questions that remain. Did they think to consult with Jewish groups? Did they consider how this would be perceived in Israel? They won’t say.

Here

Jake Tapper provides a comprehensive report on the Mary Robinson award, detailing her involvement at Durban and criticism from the Jewish community “over perceptions of her lack of even-handedness regarding Israel” on not just Durban but on Jenin as well. In addition to the ADL objection to the award earlier on Monday, Tapper catches up with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations:

Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told ABC News that he agreed with [ADL National Director Abe] Foxman’s assessment of Robinson’s past behavior but added that his organization had yet to decide whether it would formally protest Robinson being honored by the President.

Here

One is left with two options in assessing the Obama administration’s decision: either a colossal error in vetting or a deliberate effort – which meshes perfectly with his Cairo speech’s theme and his admonition that “daylight” is required between the U.S. and Israel — in order to ingratiate himself with the Palestinian cause. What better way to flaunt his disdain for Israel’s sensibilities — and for American voters who support Israel — than to pick the villain of Durban? And while he is continuing his worldwide effort to denigrate American exceptionalism and give credence to the blame-America-first crowd, there could be no more fitting honoree than Robinson.

Michael Goldfarb at TWS:

Robinson defended the Durban statement at the time, saying, “In the end, the text that came out of South Africa was remarkably good including on the issues of the Middle East.” Time magazine came to a different conclusion, as did just about every right-thinking person in the Western world. “The conference was a disgrace. It was a disgrace in conception–in the very idea that a few days of talk could lead to any useful action directed against a scourge that diminishes the lives of millions–and it was a disgrace in execution,” wrote Michael Elliott in a piece that singled out Robinson for her naiveté.

Tevi Troy at The Corner:

Robinson’s record is well known to most Jews with even a passing familiarity with the Jewish media. It cannot be a surprise that honoring Robinson in this way would be anathema to the Jewish community. In addition, I know from having worked in the White House that these selections go through extremely careful vetting of public and non-public databases to make sure that they would not embarrass the president in any way. The staff secretary’s office, which clears all paperwork that goes to the president, would also make sure that all of the relevant offices sign off on important selections before they happen. The two most important sign offs on something like the Medal of Freedom would be the chief of staff’s office, now headed by Rahm Emanuel, and the senior advisor’s office, now run by David Axelrod. For the Obama White House to have made this selection could mean one of only two possibilities: that they did not vet and clear the candidates, which suggests a level of incompetence beyond even missing tax evasions by cabinet nominees. Uncaught tax evasion does not come up on Google; Robinson’s record does. The other, more likely, possibility is that they knew and did not care.

The Bush 41 White House became infamous in the Jewish community for James Baker’s comment “F the Jews, they didn’t vote for us anyway.” The Obama administration’s approach appears to be: “F the Jews, they’re going to vote for us anyway.”

More Troy

Tevi and Gil Troy in the New York Post

Gateway Pundit

Melanie Phillips

Matthew Yglesias:

Naturally, Abe Foxman sees an insidious plot against the Jewish people:

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, today issued a statement saying that Robinson has “anti-Israel bias” and calling the decision to bestow America’s highest civilian honor upon Robinson as an agent of change “ill-advised.”

James Besser explains the case, such as it is, against Robinson. You see, back in 2001:

Robinson didn’t support the anti-Semitic outbursts at Durban, but a credible case can be made that she didn’t do enough to prevent them – or speak up loudly enough after the debacle.

I think it takes a pretty serious case of narcissism to reach the conclusion that this bill of particulars ought to outweigh a person’s entire career.

My sense is that what’s really going on here is the same as what’s happening with pro-Israel groups’ years-long campaign against Human Rights Watch. It’s simply not possible to do a credible job of international human rights monitoring without criticizing Israeli behavior now and again. Exercising sovereign authority over the lives of millions of stateless persons is a human rights fiasco waiting to happen. But a lot of Jewish organizations in the United States seem to take the view that because Israel’s human rights record is better than, say, Sudan’s (and it sure is better) that any criticism of Israel amounts to anti-Israel bias.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline

More Mirengoff

UPDATE: Martin Peretz in TNR

Yglesias on Peretz

UPDATE #2: James Kirchick in TNR

UPDATE #3: Medal of Freedom given.

More Rubin

More Peretz

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, International Institutions, Israel/Palestine, Political Figures

There’s A Lot To Say About Goldman Sachs And Everybody’s Saying It

The infamous Matt Taibbi piece in Rolling Stone.

Goldman Sachs returns volley (via NY Post):

The bank’s spokesman, Lucas Van Praag, was more pointed: “[Taibbi’s] story is an hysterical compilation of conspiracy theories,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Notable ones missing are Goldman Sachs as the third shooter [in John F. Kennedy’s assassination] and faking the first lunar landing.”

“We reject the assertion that we are inflators of bubbles and profiteers in busts, and we are painfully conscious of the importance in being a force for good,” Van Praag added.

And via Felix Salmon:

Having read your piece about Matt Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone, I wanted to set the record straight, particularly about “regulatory capture”.

Background: Under the Commodity Exchange Act, the CFTC (for agricultural futures) or exchanges (for energy/metals futures) established speculative position limits. As much as anything else, the limits are intended to prevent market imbalances that would result in failures of the ultimate settlement of the futures contracts.

The CFTC rules exempt “bona fide hedging” transactions from these spec limits. A bona fide hedging transaction was originally understood to be an actual producer/consumer who was selling or buying the underlying commodity and wanted to hedge risk of the price moving up or down. In 1991, J. Aron wanted to enter into one of its first commodity index swap transactions with a pension fund. In order to hedge our exposure on the swap, we wanted to buy futures on the commodities in the index. We applied to the CFTC for exemption from position limits on the theory that even if we weren’t buying the commodity, we had offsetting exposure (in our swap) that put us in a balanced/price neutral position. The CFTC agreed with our argument and granted exemption. By the way, each of the then Commissioners signed off, so it was hardly a secret…

The CFTC published a report in August 2008, indicating that there were few instances when entities would have exceeded spec limits, had they applied to OTC positions.

Yesterday, as you probably know, the Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations issued a report on wheat futures in which they concluded that divergence between prices for actual wheat v. wheat futures is being caused solely by index investment. The Committee’s recommendation is that hedge exemptions which support indices should be phased out.

Not quite so recently, the elimination of Glass Steagall doesn’t exactly provide a robust argument for regulatory capture. And Taibbi’s bubble case doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny either. To give just two examples, even with the worst will in the world, the blame for creating the internet bubble cannot credibly be laid at our door, and we could hardly be described as having been a major player in the mortgage market, unlike so many of our current and former competitors.

Taibbi’s article is a compilation of just about every conspiracy theory ever dreamed up about Goldman Sachs, but what real substance is there to support the theories?

We reject the assertion that we are inflators of bubbles and profiteers in busts, and we are painfully conscious of the importance of being a force for good.

Taibbi responds:

I’m aware that some people feel that it’s a journalist’s responsibility to “give both sides of the story” and be “even-handed” and “objective.” A person who believes that will naturally find serious flaws with any article like the one I wrote about Goldman. I personally don’t subscribe to that point of view. My feeling is that companies like Goldman Sachs have a virtual monopoly on mainstream-news public relations; for every one reporter  like me, or like far more knowledgeable critics like Tyler Durden, there are a thousand hacks out there willing to pimp Goldman’s viewpoint on things in the front pages and ledes of the major news organizations. And there are probably another thousand poor working stiffs who are nudged into pushing the Goldman party line by their editors and superiors (how many political reporters with no experience reporting on financial issues have swallowed whole the news cliche about Goldman being the “smart guys” on Wall Street? A lot, for sure).

Goldman has its alumni pushing its views from the pulpit of the U.S. Treasury, the NYSE, the World Bank, and numerous other important posts; it also has former players fronting major TV shows. They have the ear of the president if they want it. Given all of this, I personally think it’s absurd to talk about the need for “balance” in every single magazine and news article. I understand that some people feel differently, but that’s my take on things.

Andrew Ross Sorkin documents the fight. Joe Weisenthal at Clusterstock fisks the article.

Megan McArdle

Taibbi is a gifted narrative journalist, whose verbal talents I greatly admire.  But financial meltdowns don’t offer villains, for the simple reason that no one person or even one group is powerful enough to take down a whole system.  Confronted with this, Taibbi doesn’t back away from the narrative form, or apply it to smaller questions where it is more appropriate, as William Cohan did in House of Cards.  Instead, he grabs whoever’s nearest to hand and builds them up into a gigantic straw villian, which he proceeds to bash with a handful of recently acquired technical terms that he clearly doesn’t quite understand.  It’s not that everything he says is wrong, but the bits that are true aren’t interesting, and the bits that are interesting aren’t true.  The whole thing dissolves into the kind of conspiracy theory he so ably lampooned in The Great Derangement.  The result is something that’s not even wrong.  It’s just incoherent.

Barry Ritholtz on McArdle’s assertion that there aren’t any villains:

Um, Megan, I am going to have to beg to differ with you. There were many, many identifiable villains who through their own action and inaction, helped create the crisis. There were people who remained slavishly  devoted to an outmoded and disproven ideology, which led them to decisions that were indefendable. Some people engaged in utter recklessness when it came to risk management, or such gross irresponsibility that they are not merely morally culpable, but legally also. Then there are those regulators who gave the corporate interests they supervised pretty much everything they asked for.  And of course, the people simply trying to grab a free lunch contributed mightily to the collapse.

I have 322 well researched pages that shows as much.

Goldman Sachs was but one of the 5 biggest investment banks that requested from the SEC, and received, an exemption from the net cap rules. This allowed their leverage to balloon from 12-to-1 to as much as 40-to-1.

As a nation, we need to stop pretending this is “too complicated” and start holding the responsible parties accountable . . .

McArdle responds:

There are plenty of villains around, but no group small enough to be assigned any meaningful measure of responsibility for the financial crisis.  Imagine that Goldman Sachs had, say, gone under in the 1998 financial crisis.  Imagine that Clinton or Bush had appointed someone else to the SEC from the universe of politically possible candidates.  Imagine that Suze Orman had started talking down homeownership in 2003 rather than touting it as a fabulous way to build your net worth.  What would be different now?  Nothing of any importance, as far as I can tell.

You can point to many people–thousands of bankers, tens of thousands of realtors and mortgage brokers, millions of homebuyers–who did things I really wish they hadn’t, blinded by greed and wishful thinking and arrogance.  But when the action of any one person, or firm, requires millions of counterparties taking their own stupid risks, I don’t see how you can really name them the villains of the piece.

This will not, of course, please anyone who wants me to tell them how and why we should get the bankers.  For them, the important thing is the conclusion; since we already know it, it is a trivial matter to assemble whatever evidence might help us get the bankers.    And since I am not providing them with convenient reasons to get the bankers, it therefore follows that I must be a paid hack protecting my corporate masters.

Meanwhile, Goldman blogging continues apace. Tyler Durden on Zero Hedge on Goldman 360

One second: by using Goldman 360 a client voluntarily allows Goldman to provide keystroke by keystroke data of everything the client does, even if that includes launching trades via REDI, to Goldman for the internal business purposes? The third thing everyone on Wall Street agrees on is that “internal business purposes” usually (and in Goldman’s case, almost exclusively) means proprietary trading.

Are Goldman 360 clients (in)voluntarily signing off a release to be front ran by Goldman on any portal-based trade? Could Goldman please clarify just what “internal business purposes” means in the context of this overarching disclaimer, and also whether Goldman has ever actually used 360 submitted information in the decision making process of its prop trading desk? Lucas Van Pragg: the floor is yours.

Update: several readers have presented some other Goldman Sachs and Spear, Leeds and Kellogg form documents that contain an even more crypitc warning in section 4(f) in Use Of Services:

You acknowledge that we may monitor your use of the Services for our own purposes (and not for your benefit). We may use the resulting information for internal business purposes or in accordance with the rules of any applicable regulatory or self-regulatory body and in compliance with applicable law and regulation.NOT FOR YOUR BENEFIT? I mean, come on, how more clearer does it need to get.

And today, Sydney Williams at Seeking Alpha:

Here we are once again, on the eve of another record earnings report by Goldman Sachs. Are we back to the old days, or on to something new and different?

We can safely agree that the banking crisis is officially over, as this writer and others have recently argued. Whatever we may draw from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve’s methods, they’ve worked. Confidence is restored, at least enough to allow market-savvy traders to place the kind of aggressive bets that can reap windfalls for bank profits.

Seeking Alpha:

Meredith Whitney, the well-known banking analyst, upgraded her outlook on Goldman Sachs this morning, resulting in the market as a whole making some gains.
We have to give Ms. Whitney her due. After all, she was one of the first to call attention to the problems at Citigroup and other banks, the weakness in the housing industry, and how these might affect the economy as a whole.
However, we think the market’s reaction to Whitney’s comment highlights a serious problem in our nation. Investors today pay far too much attention to quarterly (if not daily) results, and not enough to the long-term picture.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum has two opinions of the Tiabbi piece. Here:

POSTSCRIPT: Someone also asked Ezra about Matt Taibbi’s takedown of Goldman Sachs in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.  I finally got around to reading it the other day, and my verdict is simple: it was terrible.  Taibbi wrote a terrific article about AIG a couple of months ago, but the Goldman piece was just phoned in, a long series of blustery assertions with essentially nothing to back up any of them.  If he wants to claim that Goldman was the wizard behind the curtain of everything from the dotcom boom to last year’s oil spike, he really needs to produce some evidence for it instead of just saying so.

POSTSCRIPT 2: I just learned that Rolling Stone didn’t actually post Taibbi’s article.  They only posted a set of excerpts, which is why the online version reads like a long series of blustery assertions with essentially nothing to back up any of them.  Unfortunately, unless you read the intro very carefully, it’s not clear that these are merely excerpts.  Instead, it just seems like a very badly written article.

So: I retract what I said for now.  I still suspect that Taibbi is considerably overstating things, trying to construct a dramatic narrative by blaming Goldman for things that are actually sins of the investment community as a whole, but I won’t know for sure until I read the entire piece.

And here:

Well, I’ve now the read the entire piece, and I apologize.  (To Taibbi, that is, not the morons at Rolling Stone, who should have either posted the whole thing or done nothing at all.)  It’s a very good takedown of the modern financial industry and well worth reading.  There are some bits here and there that I’m not sure Taibbi gets quite right, and I do think that he made a mistake in casting Goldman Sachs as the “engineer” of every bubble in the past century rather than merely an unusually big and enthusiastic member of a predatory gang that’s been ripping us off for a long time.  This gives the piece a conspiratorial air that allows Goldman to laugh it off instead of being forced to engage with it, and that’s too bad.  They — and everyone else on Wall Street — should be forced to engage with it.

Beyond that, there are undoubtedly some mistakes in the piece, as well as places where Taibbi goes unnecessarily over the top.  I’m still not sold on carbon permits being the next big bubble, for example.  But those are quibbles.  Overall it’s a striking portait of an industry — not just a single company — of almost unbounded greed and recklessness.  Worth reading.

UPDATE #2: On those profits, Michelle Malkin

Charlie Gasparino in the Daily Beast

UPDATE #3: Arianna Huffington

Pretty much Matt Taibbi’s entire blog, but here’s two posts, here and here.

Ezra Klein

Kevin Drum

Jon Stewart

UPDATE #4: Stephen Gandel at Time

UPDATE #5: More Charlie Gasparino in the Daily Beast

UPDATE #6: Dean Starkman at CJR on Taibbi

Ezra Klein on the Starkman piece

Kevin Drum on the Starkman piece

UPDATE #7: William D. Cohan in Time:

“A recent story in Rolling Stone, of all places, in which the author described Goldman as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” has been particularly troubling to him. “Oddly enough, the Rolling Stone article tapped into something,” he says in an interview. “I saw it as gonzo, over-the-top writing that some people might find fun to read. I was shocked that others saw it as being supporting evidence that Goldman Sachs had burned down the Reichstag, shot the Archduke Ferdinand and fired on Fort Sumter.” Suddenly a firm that few Americans know or understand has become part of the zeitgeist, the symbol of irresponsible Wall Street excess, the recovery from which has pushed the nation’s treasury to the brink. (See 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.)

It’s an odd contradiction: an excelling company being reviled in a country that embraces the profit motive. And without question, Goldman Sachs under Blankfein has recalibrated, in very large numbers, its place as Wall Street’s most astute, most opaque and most influential firm. In the first and second quarters of 2009, the company earned $5.3 billion in net income, the most profitable six-month stretch in Goldman’s history. Goldman’s stock has more than tripled since its low last November, to more than $160 per share.

The U.S. unemployment rate has risen too, nearing 10%. In stark contrast, Goldman Sachs has set aside some $11.36 billion so far in 2009 in total compensation and benefits for its 29,400 employees. That’s about on pace with the record payout the firm made in 2007, at the height of the bubble. Thanks to Andrew Cuomo, the New York State attorney general, we know that in 2008, while Goldman earned $2.3 billion for the year, it paid out $4.82 billion in bonuses, giving 953 employees at least $1 million each and 78 executives $5 million or more (although Goldman’s top five officers, including Blankfein, declined a bonus).

Goldman’s riches have deflected the spotlight from what should be great story fodder: Blankfein’s personal journey from one of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods to its most élite investment bank — and his astounding rise within Goldman. Instead, he has to explain Goldman’s performance — and connections — in the face of the nation’s epic financial calamity.”

Lawerence Delevingne at Clusterstock:

Somewhere, Matt Taibbi is smiling. There’s something validating about being dismissed by the top dog himself.

Bess Levin at Dealbreaker

New York Magazine:

You’re right, William. It is a crime that the American people have wasted so much time asking questions in an attempt to figure out whether the people controlling all the money in our pension plans and bank accounts are trustworthy and will not completely fuck up the system again and then run into their barricaded second and third homes with their gold bars, leaving the rest of use mewling and starving in the streets. We’re sorry, how selfish of us. Do tell us about Lloyd’s “personal journey.”

Charlie Gasparino in Daily Beast:

Paranoia might not be too strong a word to describe the mind-set. People inside Goldman tell me that some senior executives say they believe the onslaught of negative stories detailing Goldman’s manifold ties to upper levels of government, charges that it somehow fraudulently profited from the subprime crisis, and now the press about the firm’s record earnings is so out of proportion to reality that the coverage contains an element of anti-Semitism—subtly playing off the racist myth of a conspiracy of Jewish bankers controlling the world for their own benefit. (Goldman was founded by a Jewish immigrant, and after years of being run by Gentiles Jon Corzine and Hank Paulson, is once again run by a Jew, Lloyd Blankfein.)

Blankfein, I am told, isn’t paranoid but really concerned about being placed in an untenable position for any CEO who needs to retain talent. If he doesn’t pay his people, many will simply jump ship to other firms—including private-equity firms—that will. If he does, he faces endless negative coverage about how Goldman is making its partners rich at the expense of taxpayers who bailed out the firm last year.

This quandary has resulted in some very serious discussions at Goldman to attempt to spin the bonus issue in the best possible (or least damaging) way. The Daily Beast has learned that Goldman is considering “a menu” of options: One possibility is to pay the vast majority of the bonus in stock. On Wall Street, executives receive a combination of stock and cash, with the cash portion comprising 65 percent of the total bonus. Goldman may just flip that around.

John Cook at Gawker:

Goldman Sachs is taking the whole “bloodsucking squidmonster” thing pretty seriously. CEO Lloyd Blankfein is losing sleep over how to pay out $11 billion in taxpayer financed bonuses without catching hell from anti-Semites like everybody. Heavy weighs the crown.

CNBC’s Charlie Gasparino reports in the Daily Beast that Blankfein is “obsessed” with the hits that Goldman’s image has taken after getting a $10 billion capital injection from taxpayers and $13 billion out of the AIG bailout. He’s “looks like shit” because he’s so worried about what’s going to happen in bonus season, when he has to distribute that $11 billion bonus reserve. He’s looking for a “brand manager” to rescue the firm’s image, and Goldman insiders say that anyone who’s royally pissed off that Goldman is simply harvesting taxpayer money as profits and handing it out to its obscenely wealthy (and occasionally pedophilic) employees in the form of bonuses really just hates Jews

Bess Levin at Dealbreaker:

Two things are troubling in Charlie Gasparino’s latest story on Goldman Sachs, which has apparently been freaking out over how it’s going to manage the 85 Broad haters come bonus season, when Lloyd Blankfein is expected to make it rain golden showers. The first is that you might get the mistaken impression Chaz is an anti-Semite. This could not be further from the truth. Charlie loves Jews. Some of his best friends are Macabis and since I’ve known him he always takes the time to inquire “how the dreidel spinnin’s goin’, Heeb girl” come December. So please, people e-mailing us, get off CG’s ass for the description of current Goldman management below.

UPDATE #8: Dave at The League on Taibbi

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It’s The End Of GM As We Know It

GM-Ren-Cen

GM filed for bankruptcy this morning.

Two Marc Ambinder posts, here and here.

Mickey Kaus:

Key sentence in the government’s GM bankruptcy release (via Ambinder) highlighted:

The U.S. Treasury is prepared to provide approximately $30.1 billion of debtor in possession financing to support GM through an expedited chapter 11 proceeding and transition the new GM through its restructuring plan. The U.S. Treasury does not anticipate providing any additional assistance to GM beyond this commitment.

Hmm. If $50 billion ($30B plus an earlier $20B) really is the limit of the taxpayer subsidy, fine. Then GM and the still-privileged UAW will have to make some tough choices down the road–and whatever happens the bailout could be justified by the backup, background rationale of  ‘we delayed the end until the economy could handle it.’ But is the Obama Administration really planning to cut off GM’s intravenous drip of federal billions, if when the $50 billion doesn’t put the company back on its feet? It doesn’t look that way, from this quote in the NYT:

“We don’t think that after this next $30 billion, they will need more money,” one administration official said. “But the fact is there are things you don’t know — like when the car market will come back, and how much Toyota and Honda and Volkswagen will benefit from the chaos.”

Jonathan Cohn in TNR:

GM was the symbol of American industrial might and, for three-quarters of a century, the world’s largest carmaker. Now, in order to qualify or government financial assistance, GM is eliminating half of its brands, shedding dealers by the thousands, and laying off a third of its already diminished hourly workforce.

Even if the Obama administration’s plan works–even if GM re-emerges from bankruptcy as a leaner, more competitive company–it will never regain its iconic status. It will be just another company, albeit one whose majority owner is the U.S. government, at least for the time being.

It’s not the kind of result that inspires great enthusiasm. And perhaps that helps explain why the administration has been collecting critics not only on the right but, lately, on the left as well.

Nick Gillespie in Reason

John Hinderaker

Dean Baker

EARLIER: Like A Rock… Not So Much

UPDATE: James Poulos

Via K-Lo, Keith Hennessey

Naked Capitalism on Robert Reich

Calculated Risk

Megan McArdle:

GM’s main problem is not that the market is unreasonably unwilling to finance a potentially profitable company.  Nor that it can’t produce an awesome small car that shockingly few people want to buy.  (Believe me, as the owner of a tiny, ultra-efficient car, I would that there were higher demand for my rapidly depreciating asset).  GM’s main problems are

1)  A terrible, bloated cost structure
2)  A terrible, bloated bureaucracy
3)  A bunch of meh car lines

Which of these is the government going to solve?  That terrible, bloated cost structure supports a bloated union whose jobs are the entire rationale for the government intervention.  Leaning on the parts suppliers just risks UAW jobs further down the supply chain.  Maybe we can take it out of the budget for copy paper and pencils.

UPDATE #2: Michelle Malkin

Michael Moore at Daily Beast

UPDATE #3: John Cole and Ed Morrissey

UPDATE #4: Robert Reich in the Financial Times

Seyward Darby at TNR

UPDATE #5: Henry Payne at The Corner

UPDATE #6: Jim Manzi in the New York Post

UPDATE #7: Jennifer Rubin in Commentary

Matthew Yglesias

UPDATE #8: James Bennet in the Atlantic

Jacob Sullum in Reason

Jon Stewart and Jon Stewart and P.J. O’Rourke

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Filed under Economics, The Crisis